Building Healthy Communities: What Is Yours To Do? 

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Apr 22, 2020
by Nupur Chaudhury
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Building Healthy Communities: What Is Yours To Do? 

Public health urbanist Nupur Chaudhury says that the time for building healthier communities is not after the pandemic but now Photo: Nicolas Gonzalez/Unsplash

As a public health urbanist, I look at connections, cities and communities through a grassroots lens. I sit a mile away from the epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic here in the United States and I’ve been examining the fracture of life that’s currently unfolding. I have been a part of numerous conversations focused on the fact that life will never be the same when we emerge from this pandemic. Although many conversations focus on the “after” on the “when all of this is done,” I would urge us to think about building healthy communities now. 

My colleague Lourdes Rodriguez, at the Cities Research Group (a project of the University of Orange), developed the concept of Collective Recovery, a theory that focuses on the idea that in moments like this we cannot focus on heroes and victims, but rather that we must focus on the collective: that we are all in pain, that we all hurt, and most importantly, we are all the makers and authors of what our collective recovery can be. She developed this concept in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, where the tendency was to focus on the geographic footprint of the attacks (a one-mile radius around the twin towers), and the workers, businesses and first responders, rather than realize that the entire region was hurting. 

I have found Rodriguez’s framing of the four tasks of Collective Recovery - Remember, Respect, Learn, and Connect - to be grounding at this time. The central question in all of this is when thinking about recovery is “what is yours to do?”

We have seen examples of all four tasks play out over the lifespan of this forced and managed retreat: We have seen seamstresses create an assembly line, churning out masks by the thousands. We have seen neighborhoods place teddy bears in their windows for children to see on their daily walks. We have experienced the connection of friends near and far in the form of food deliveries and care packages. And we have collectively banged on pots and pans every night at 7pm in honor of our essential workers. These are not government sanctioned activities, nor are these leaders professional health workers or urban planners. These are the community builders we need now. 

These tasks are all of ours to do. And there is still more to do! This recovery is ours to imagine, and ours to create. And it is this recovery, together, that will build healthy communities for the future. 

Nupur Chaudhury, MUP, MPH is the Urbanist-in-Residence, Cities Research Group at University of Orange, Orange, NJ, USA. She is a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar having participated in the program, Building Healthy, Equitable Communities: The Role of Inclusive Urban Development and Investment in October 2018. She is a co-author of the Salzburg Statement on Confronting Power and Privilege for Inclusive, Equitable and Healthy Communities